Tuesday, July 24, 2007

House Armed Services Subcommittee Debates Role of Nuclear Weapons in World

Lawmakers on the Energy and Water Development Committees in both the House and Senate have demanded a debate on the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security, citing a lack of long-term strategy or even discussion on the topic. They demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the status quo by axing all funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program in the House, and cutting some funding for the program in the Senate.

Last week, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) delivered. As Chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Tauscher called in experts to debate, as she phrased it,

… the United States' nuclear weapons policy and discuss our options regarding the future size and composition of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Led by this subcommittee, the House Armed Services Committee has called for a vigorous and open debate on the future direction of the United States' strategic posture and a fresh examination of our nuclear weapons policy in particular.
Here was the round-one lineup:

* Dr. William Perry, Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton
* Dr. Sidney Drell, professor and deputy director emeritus at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
* Dr. Keith Payne, a principal architect of the most recent Nuclear Posture Review and current professor at Missouri State University

For the sake of brevity I am only providing brief excerpts from Perry and Payne - the entire audio transcript can be listened to here if you want more.


The United States should not pursue the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons through the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.
One specific question faced by this committee is whether to authorize the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. There are two valid arguments for proceeding with that program: first, that it will maintain the capability of our nuclear weapon designers, and it allows the design of a warhead that cannot be detonated by a terror group, even if they were able to get one.

Our countervailing argument is that if the United States proceeds to develop new nuclear warheads, it will undermine our ability to lead the international community in the fight against proliferation. My best subjective judgment at this time is that the proliferation argument outweighs the other two.


In a world with myriad unpredictable threats to the United States, nuclear weapons should not be taken off the table.
The painful truth is that now no one truly knows what constitutes a stabilizing force structure or whether or how deterrence will work across the wide spectrum of contemporary opponents, states and circumstances we may confront.
Deterrence is essential, and nuclear weapons still play an important deterrence role.
It's important to understand what types of U.S. deterrent threat would be best suited to deterring a particular opponent in a particular circumstance for a particular purpose. In some cases non- military approaches to deterrence will be best. In others non-nuclear force options are likely to be adequate and advantageous. And in still other cases, nuclear threat options may be necessary to deter.
Research should continue for RRW, but not manufacturing. Also, there is no urgency to build new weapons.
The RRW needs to proceed carefully with research on design modifications before moving ahead to consider development and manufacture of new warheads. In other words, it has to stay at the moment in Phase 2A.

We must recognize that implementing design changes is not time urgent. The legacy stockpile is strong. The pace of the work should not consume human and budgetary resources to the extent of savaging the important and highly successful stockpile stewardship and life extension programs that are going on now. It will take more money, if you want to consider doing that.

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